The Theater: Old Play on Broadway, Sep. 28, 1959

Much Ado About Nothing (by William Shakespeare) has a contemptible hero, a motiveless villain, a tediously improbable main plot. Happily, what academics term the subplot—the prickly-pear romance of Benedick and Beatrice—is one of the most delightful things in all Shakespeare. And it can never have seemed more a delight than when John Gielgud and Margaret Leighton are swapping insults and moving blindfolded toward the altar.

In creating his determinedly unromantic lovers, Shakespeare as a comedy writer traded sighs for banter, nightingales for mockingbirds, antic humor for elegant wit. Benedick's first sniffy words to Beatrice—"What, my dear Lady Disdain—are you yet alive?"—could...

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